Monday, 12 September 2016

Plug and Pray.

What's the definition of frustration? remember those old jokes of the old days when you were younger & thinks were different, pay to go to the toilets on railway stations, paid a penny & only f*****.   Advance in years & the computer age comes along & a new term called Plug & Play, a time when you could add a device to your computer, sometimes needing to take the case apart to do so, but when you fit the new item into its respective slot it ran --- mostly, worst case you were told was you might have to install a driver from supplied disc, problem was the P&P term changed & became Plug & Pray.  A bit like that now with Model railways, especially with how models perform & made.

After being out of the hobby for years & coming back,  the new fangled thing called DCC & then sound entered the arena, progress has happened to the point where we do not need a masters degree in electronics to install a decoder, so P&P applies in the first instance Plug & Play, whip out the DC decoder from the electonics board in all locomotive models, do some simple???? programing and you run around after your new investment.  Happy days in the model railway realm of toy trains having made a step up. Seriously though, is this more a case with Plug & Pray being the best term for our brave new world, that is if you want to go a bit further than plonking and playing trains?

OK! I've started with a negative so sorry about that, thing is though its more a point of frustration than a distinct negative by itself really.  I set my layout up in a way that I would like to be as prototypical as possible, the hobby in itself is not a cheap hobby, especially when one sits down & does the sums, and its certainly not getting any better with the cost of models no longer creeping up, but jumping up. For me, in order to restrict costs as much as possible I decided on a very narrow timeline to model in order to avoid tempting purchases, so a period of 1955 - 1958 was chosen after a more constrained earlier period, as it allowed me to have some models that the earlier one would not.

I only have one diesel waiting to arrive and it will complete that fleet of models. The last loco purchase was the Auscision 43cl, a model which I have previously provided photo's of and on the scale of how it looks, the attention to detail and the like, cannot, at least from my perspective be faulted.  Up until Wednesday night just passed 7th September, it had not been run as I waited for a sound decoder to be fitted. The ease of being able to install sound decoders these days was a big part of my choice of sound for the 43c, that being a WOW 21 pin with Alco 244 sound in it,

While I did not do the install I watched the process as it was done on the night of our local group meeting, easy enough, get the DC board out, fit the WOW in place, install appropriate speaker into the enclosure, cutting the length of speaker wires then solder to the electrical board.  A minimal initial programing to ensure choices were made and then a test run.  All worked well & some playing with it along with running a few other trains had for an enjoyable night.

The following day, I decided to do test loads with the model & try the various options available with the wow, while the model ran beautifully, as well as performing very much to my liking, there was one area that truly disappointed me with the model, well its not the model itself but really, an example of poor design that does not do justice to modern sound decoders & the features that are built in to them in this day and age.  To many modellers its something that is perhaps irrelevant but for those who desire to run the layouts in some form of prototypical manner it does take away from that aspect that can be easily worked in an operational.

I am referring to the poor lighting arrangements and lack of realistic operating operations available on this model purely as a result of the way the main electrical board is designed. The way it works now is that when the headlight is turned on, it turns on all the lights, that is, headlight, number box, as well as the marker lights, turn the headlight off and all are turned off. The lights are automatically directional, so that on whatever cab is leading, those 3 lights are either all on or off, with white lights at the lead end with red at the trailing end, no independent control of the lights at all.

To many its not likely to be a big deal, but the reality is, at least from my perspective is that it should not have been hard to have the main board designed in such a way that once a DCC decoder, be it a sound or silent type any one with 4 lighting functions available could have readily been able to handle what is correct lighting features of this type & all types of Diesel locomotives, especially the early generation ones as well I suspect modern diesels as well.

Operational requirements for lights basically only changed for diesels in around 1965/66, forget the exact time but it was in that mid 60's time frame that it happened, when a regulation was brought out that ruled the use the headlight on diesel locomotives operating in daylight hours. The regulations that applied to steam locomotives were to be used with diesels, that is the headlight is to be switched on high except inside the Sydney Metropolitan area, inside the border areas, outside those areas the headlights were to be turned off through manned stations, signal boxes when manual changing of sectional staff tokens, when approaching trains running in the opposite direction,

The borders mentioned were Penrith, Cowan, Liverpool, later changed to Campbeltown, Sutherland, inside these areas trains ran under Metropolitan control outside those areas trains ran under the various control boards for the lines.  The rule was introduced so that Fettlers & others working on the permanent way was able to see the diesels at a distance, with steam it was easier to see owing to their being smoke in the distance, not just a black blob.

For Steam, dynamo had to be turned off in daylight hours = no lights of any type working. OTOH with diesels when the battery knife switch was closed in order to start the engine, all lights generally came on, exception being the headlight. Cab type loco's such as the 42, 43 etc had engineroom lights some had step & under body lights that stayed on at all times, staff exchanger lights were manual control when the ring was used. Box & Marker lights were also manual operated by on/of switch on the control stands. cab lights an on/off switch at the light assembly. Headlights had either a single rotary 3 position switch, off - dim - high, or a double switch, one being on/off,  2nd one next to the first high/dim.

For a diesel model, all that's needed is that both ends have on off function keys, 1 for headlight on/off. combined on off for marker & box lights, directional lighting could be directional for running either way. The only way to control the 43cl other than by the headlight is by two switches under the fuel tank, that one turns off the headlight with the other the marker lights, meaning you have to manually turn them off using them in MU operations, but you lose all the lights when they are turned off.

I believe that other diesels have similar aspects with them as well, but surely given the time and effort taken in the various people engaged in the research and development aspects of our models, these days in getting the current range of locomotives to the standards they are arriving in, some small amount of time could be put into getting something simple such as the lighting features correct in readiness for either working under DC or DCC operations, both either motor/lighting or sound.

Rather than a plain dumb DC plug as supplied now, why cannot they have the lighting features on the removable board, working through the pin connections for that mode of user operation. Then for those having DCC, again, be it either non sound or sound the lighting features built in to that decoder is used.

I know of modellers who choose to completely strip models of these factory boards & hard wire decoders in to their models rather than trying to alter these boards in order to get the lighting features working. Much Much easier to do it that way than trying to keep the factory boards & modify them. In reality its a waste of a resource that costs the importers as well as the end user money that is for many wasted.

This may seem small as I have said, but the way I see it is that while the importers cannot satisfy every small whim of modellers, with the striving towards getting details correct, its often the small things that end up being the most frustrating, especially when getting that part of the model right, in both detail as well as to how it applied on the railways scene that we are modelling. With diesels, even the older types we have operating representations of most of them, some rail operators allow access to their loco fleets, many modellers work as drivers &/or assistants, and even own model companies so, it should not be hard for these things to be gotten right, even when a dislike for DCC is or was evident at some time.


  1. Good points, Colin. Pass them on to the big guys to think about in future model or reruns as it helps create a better model for those who want it as well as those who don't care.

  2. Ben, I have tried that before, & found they didn't like the input.

    Thanks for your post.